Armchair Sailing

Not really sure what this America's Cup is all about? With just 35 days away until the opening ceremonies, there is still plenty of time to bone up on what has been called sailing's Super Bowl. 

Whether it's a 101, the Cup's history or a plunge into some of the more famous characters and competitions of the past 160 years, there is a book for you. So to assemble such a list, we went to the authority on all things AC – Bob Fisher. A journalist for the Guardian and the Observer, Fisher is more than an America's Cup historian, he is one of the sport's leading authorities, having covered the Cup since 1976. He has been around the world and back not only researching the Cup, but spending hours with the legends who made this quest for the trophy so memorable. Bob's recommendations include:

Yankee Yachtsman from Sherman Hoyt's Memoirs by Sherman Hoyt. Deemed the "most famous yachtsman's of his era," Hoyt recounts his sailing adventures from the 1880s through his America's Cup racing of 1920s and 1930s, a voyage that found him in contact with individuals such as the Dowager Empress of China, Adolph Hitler and King George V. Hoyt is credited with driving the Rainbow team to victory, taking the helm after the first two races were lost, the closest the Americans came to losing the Cup until 1983.

Temple to the Wind by Christopher Pastore, 2005. If you are interested in naval architecture and its impact on the Cup, Pastore's book delves into the work of famed naval architect Nathanael Herreshoff and one of his finest creations, Reliance. From sea trials to its race against Sir Thomas Lipton in 1903 to the secretive millionaires who funded the campaign, this book details how cutting edge this boat really was, once again pushing the limits of yachting in pursuit of the Cup.

Leaves from the Lipton Logs by Sir Thomas Lipton, 1931. This rare tome captures the story of Sir Thomas Lipton and his quest for the Cup. Despite five unsuccessful attempts to win the Cup in the early 1900s, Lipton's well-publicized efforts became renown, especially for his fair play on the water, gaining popularity for both the sport and his eponymous tea brand. 

On the Wind's Highway by Harold Vanderbilt, 1938. A member of the storied Vanderbilt family, Harold S. "Mike" Vanderbilt's covers the America's Cup from 1920 to 1937, and the evolution of the famed J-Class boats. A successful defender of the Cup three times, Vanderbilt not only managed the program but also led from the helm, making him the only owner-drive to win three Cups. The 259-page book includes more than 70 black and white photos of the beauties, along with his insights into the tactics behind the Ranger defense and why the rules were way too complex. 

Born to Win: A Lifelong Struggle to Win the America's Cup, by John Bertrand, 1985. The person who ended 132 years of the American domination of the Cup, John Bertrand and the team aboard Australia II had the superior boat and a superior team, but this win was anything boat easy. Bertrand's recount takes you to what could have been their last race, down 3-1 facing famed American helmsman Dennis Conner, and takes you breathlessly through ups and downs of the racing on and off the water as Bertrand tries to secure what feels like an elusive win. 

Comeback by Dennis Conner and Bruce Stannard, 1989. The only person to lose and then win back the America's Cup, Dennis Conner has been called America's most famous sailor. From the gut-wrenching loss to the Australians – breaking the longest winning streak not just in sailing but in sport – to the building of a team and the politics that goes with it, Conner's Comeback details his plan to get the Cup on American soil. Written for the sailor in mind, the book includes diagrams of some of the pivotal on-the-water situations.

To The Third Power by Paul Larsen, 1995. For those interested in team management as much as the outcome on the water, Larsen's book details the campaign of Bill Koch, the billionaire industrialist who led the America3 syndicate to victory in 1992. Holder of three degrees from MIT, Koch brought his business sense to the table along with his checkbook to defeat Dennis Conner and go on to defend the American hold on the Cup. Koch spent a reported – and eyepopping – $68 million on his campaign.

And finally, Bob's own An Absorbing Interest: The America's Cup – A History 1851-2003. The definitive account of the Cup, lovingly detailed in two volumes with lavish paintings and photographs woven throughout. Fisher's book charts the course of the Cup and all of those who have coveted it, highlighting the characters, court cases and controversies that have made the Cup so intriguing to fans. A must for every sailor's library.